Blast triggers war of words ahead of Karnataka polls

Post blast Investigators at the blast site near the BJP office
Post blast Investigators at the blast site near the BJP office. Photo: Reuters

JUST A day after the Boston Marathon terror attack and less than a month after twin blasts rocked Hyderabad, 17 people were injured in a low-intensity blast near the Karnataka BJP’s office in Bengaluru. Among the injured were 11 policemen who had been deployed there as it was the last day of filing nominations for the upcoming Assembly election on 5 May.

While the police are yet to ascertain who is behind the blast, suspicions are now being raised about the timing of the blast and who might possibly benefit from it.

“I was in my kitchen cooking, when I heard a deafening noise,” says Nanjamma, 43, who lives near the blast site. The explosion shattered the window panes of her house. “When I rushed outside, I saw cars engulfed in flames and bits of broken glass everywhere.”

Nine vehicles were damaged in the blast and the fire that followed. Police officials informed the media that the blast was caused by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) mounted on a 100cc Yamaha motorcycle (chassis number: 1108F001-568/ registration number: TN-22R- 3769). The police, however, are yet to fathom whether the blast was triggered by a timer mounted on the vehicle or through a remote device.

A police van parked close to the blast site too was damaged. The explosion occurred in the Malleswaram residential area of north Bengaluru, about 100 metres from the newly inaugurated state BJP office, christened Jagannath Bhavan. “There were 20 of us on duty when the blast happened. Eight of us were in the van, but the rest were outside,” says Vishweshwaraiyya, 50, a head constable with the Karnataka State Reserve Police Force who was admitted at the KC General Hospital along with 10 of his colleagues.

Among the injured was Assistant Sub-Inspector BC Kunyappa, who received several cuts from shards of glass on the left side of the body, from neck to ankle. “I was reading the newspaper inside a police jeep when I heard a sound, like the bursting of crackers, followed by thick smoke,” he says. “I jumped out from the vehicle, otherwise I would have been dead.” Asked whether he saw anybody parking the bike, he says he has no idea.

Besides the policemen, six others, including three women, were also injured.

An unseemly blame game has broken out between the BJP and the Congress over the blast with both sides politicising the issue. Karnataka Home Minister R Ashok, who reached the spot immediately after the blast, declared it an act of terror intended to hurt the state BJP leaders. He even speculated that it might have been intended to “celebrate” the third anniversary of the Chinnaswamy Stadium blasts of 2010 as both of the incidents occurred on 17 April while the Indian Premier League season was on.

BJP state spokesperson S Prakash too said the bomb was definitely intended to hurt party workers and state BJP leaders as it was nomination day and activists of the party would be milling around the party office.

Opposition leaders, however, slammed the BJP for the remarks. Congress leader and Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah called the blasts a political gimmick and held the state government responsible for it. Raising suspicion about the timing of the blast, Congress MP H Vishwanath said the role of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh could not be ruled out and demanded an inquiry that should submit its findings before the Assembly election.

So was it an act of terror? “Though no shrapnel or splinters were found in the bodies of the injured, nothing conclusive has come out so far,” says Joint Commissioner of Police (Law & Order) Pranab Mohanty. The only fact that seems to support the Congress’ view is that the bike was parked 100 metres away from the BJP office and seemed designed for minimum damage.

While all interpretations of the blast are premature, it’s interesting to note that past experiences have shown that similar acts were used for a political purpose. In the thick of elections in May 2008, a low-intensity bomb exploded in the district court of Dharward, 429 km west of Bengaluru. Initially, the Students Islamic Movement of India was deemed to be behind the blasts but later investigations showed the hand of extremist Hindutva groups. However, given that there have been blasts elsewhere in the country that have involved Muslim extremists, the sanest course might be to rush to no conclusions.